June 16, 2015, Nemrut Mountain, Turkey — Emin and I visited some flooded gravel pits next to the Euphrates River in southern Turkey this morning. The wetlands around this area are known as the only reliable place to find an Iraq Babbler outside of Iraq—and, after a few minutes, Emin spotted the sandy-brown bird flitting between some shrubs. We’ve now seen a Syrian Woodpecker, Spanish Sparrow, Persian Nuthatch, and Iraq Babbler in Turkey, and are hoping for an Egyptian Vulture here tomorrow, but there are no birds actually named after Turkey!
A few minutes later, we went looking for Bald Ibis, one of the world’s most critically endangered birds. Estimates put the global Bald Ibis population at about 500 individuals, and most of them are in Morocco. A few years ago several individuals were also discovered in Syria, but the rangers protecting them have since fled the conflict there, so nobody knows if those few birds still survive.
In Turkey, meanwhile, BirdLife International has been involved in a captive-breeding project with another population of ibis. Like the California Condor project in the U.S., it’s an intensive effort; for one thing, they discovered that most of the ibis were perishing on their wintering grounds farther south, so they’ve been re-capturing the birds each fall and holding them until the following spring to keep them from migrating to their doom.
The first Bald Ibis we spotted was painted four feet tall on the side of a building. Emin and I stopped at a small store in Birecik called the Kelaynak (Bald Ibis) Cafe, where a man named Mustafa Culcuoglu and his son were selling all kinds of ibis merchandise (T-shirts, scarves, framed photos, refrigerator magnets). Mustafa got inspired while volunteering for the BirdLife project and is now a serious birder; Emin spent a while picking his brain about finding specific targets in the area. Then Mustafa shook my hand with a big smile and said that he’s been following this blog!
A pair of Bald Ibis flew over the Euphrates River just down the street, and Emin and I eventually located a field full of them, probably most of the local flock. They sure looked weird with the namesake bare skin around their face - half bird, half dinosaur. Almost as ugly as a California Condor…
New birds today: 20
Year list: 2995